/ 26 March 2013

Looters rampage in CAR as strongman set to unveil government

Central African Republic strongman Michel Djotodia.
Central African Republic strongman Michel Djotodia.

Looters were on the rampage in the capital Bangui after Djotodia's Seleka rebel coalition seized control in a rapid-fire weekend assault that forced ousted president Francois Bozize into exile and was condemned by the international community.

"There is pillaging everywhere, it's very hard to control anything," said a soldier from the FOMAC African force.

The city remained tense, with hundreds of people roaming the streets on foot, many of them looking for food, and rebel patrols occasionally shooting bursts of gunfire into the air to disperse onlookers.

Djotodia said he will keep Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister in a power-sharing government after declaring on Monday that he was suspending the Constitution and dissolving Parliament and government.

"During that transition period, which will lead us to free, credible and transparent elections, I will legislate by decree," he told reporters.

He promised elections for 2016 and did not rule out running in the polls.

The African Union suspended the landlocked former French colony on Monday, and the UN Security Council condemned the coup, threatening unspecified "further measures".

The power change followed a lightning rebel offensive that shattered a January 11 power-sharing deal between the old regime and Seleka.

'Host country'
Bozize, who himself seized power in a 2003 coup, fled and on Monday was in Cameroon, where authorities said he would be moving on "to another host country".

Members of his family have fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and on Tuesday arrived in the capital Kinshasa, according to a government spokesperson.

Djotodia, who is about 60, is a former civil servant and diplomat. But since 2005 he has been one of the leading figures among the rebels.

The Seleka rebels were initially welcomed by residents waving palm leaves in celebration, but the mood quickly darkened as looters took to the streets.

The international aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said the violence had prevented critically wounded patients from getting proper treatment and called on all sides to let their staff do their job. MSF also reported that its offices had been pillaged during the unrest.

Djotodia vowed to press on with the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former rebels that has been the core grievance of his Seleka movement.

The exact number of casualties from the weekend fighting was not known. South Africa, which sent troops to the country at Bozize's request, had announced that 13 of its soldiers had been killed in clashes with the rebels, the nation's heaviest post-apartheid military loss.

South African President Jacob Zuma said there were no immediate plans to withdraw troops who were deployed alongside the weak national army.

Former colonial power France, which sent 300 troops over the weekend to reinforce 250 soldiers stationed there, said its forces had shot dead two Indian nationals who were approaching the airport in speeding vehicles on Monday.

The shooting happened "in a particularly confusing situation" after French troops had been fired upon "from an unknown source", said the French defence ministry.

A statement from India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed "deep distress" over the deaths. France's President François Hollande had written to him expressing his regret and promising an investigation, it added.

Bangui is heavily reliant on foreign aid and in an apparent attempt to reassure donors, Djotodia had vowed there would be no witch-hunt and that he would respect the terms of a January peace agreement under which Tiangaye was named prime minister in a national unity government.

That deal came after a month-long Seleka offensive that was only stopped after Chadian military intervention.

As well as suspending Bangui, the African Union announced "sanctions, travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Seleka's leaders" naming seven individuals including Djotodia.

The Central African Republic is a landlocked mineral-rich nation of 4.5-million that has been roiled by a series of coups and mutinies since becoming independent from France in 1960.

Bozize never delivered on his promises to harness the oil, gold and uranium wealth that has remained largely untapped largely because of the chronic instability, leaving the country woefully underdeveloped. – AFP